General recruiting

Talent Acquisition: More Than Just Recruiting

I'm going to make a bold statement: no one grows up wanting to become a recruiter, and even further, few people actively want to get into recruiting. This is probably because recruiters get a bad rap—they're basically known as the door-to-door salespeople of the human capital market. Honestly, I don't blame those who see recruiting in this light. The industry has been going through an identity crisis pretty much since its inception (in tech at least), and recruiters themselves often undersell the field, its importance, and its challenges.

I left my career in product management because I saw the interesting problems that recruiting has to offer. In this article, I hope to convince you that there is a whole field surrounding recruiting, called "talent acquisition", that is strategic, challenging, and most importantly, hugely impactful to any developing organization. Once I've convinced you of that, I'll give you some practical tips towards becoming a talent acquisition leader yourself.

What we can learn from project and product managers

First, I'd like to take a brief detour from the field of recruiting/talent acquisition to examine the differences between project and product management.

Project and product management are frequently confused, but they are different things. Project managers oversee the execution of projects, from task assignment to completion. [0] They live deep in the minutiae of a project to ensure its success and take a highly tactical approach to their work. In short, project managers make the thing happen, taking a vision and translating it into executable work. Project management may be a low-level, tactical discipline, but it is a highly important one for the success of any initiative.

Product management, on the other hand, sits strategically between marketing, design, and development. Product managers oversee all product development from ideation to launch and ensure that the product is meeting the needs of the business and the market. [0] Product management, born out of a rich history of marketing and business strategy [1], requires a high-level, strategic mindset. Product managers are often seen as having an organization-wide impact and are regarded as key influencers in any org chart.

Source: Asana (

How this relates to recruiting and talent acquisition

What I'd like to demonstrate now is that recruiting shares a lot in common with project management, and talent acquisition shares a lot in common with product management.

To elucidate, let's define what I mean by recruiting vs. talent acquisition. Recruiting is the process of hiring candidates for a position at your company. Recruiters act on a pre-determined headcount plan, find potential candidates, fill pipelines, interview people, and ultimately close new hires. In short, recruiters get the job done. Recruiting, like project management, is a tactical and highly valuable function.

On the other hand, talent acquisition is a strategic function that sits at the core of a business, much like product management. Talent acquisition leaders partner with the rest of leadership to set the talent strategy of a company. Recruiting operations, headcount planning, compensation strategy, employer branding, candidate experience, diversity, equity, and inclusion, interview training—these are all under the purview of a talent acquisition leader. Where recruiters have to focus on the minutiae of hiring, talent acquisition leaders focus on the high-level initiatives that can improve an organization's ability to scale in the long run.

With these definitions, perhaps the analogy between project vs. product management and recruiting vs. talent acquisition is more clear. Low-level vs. high-level, details vs. strategy, execution vs. planning.

I believe that more recruiters (and more professionals in general) should strive to become talent acquisition leaders, leveling up their career and impact by taking a more strategic seat at the table. Just as product managers often do project management as part of their role, talent acquisition leaders often do recruiting as well—it's just that they're able (and expected) to bring more to the table.

Product management has seen an influx of interest—there are now bootcamps and training programs specifically designed for people who want to transition their career into product management. I think the future holds a similar movement for talent acquisition, and I urge everyone looking to make a business-wide impact to consider being part of the movement.

How to become a talent acquisition leader

🤔 Think about the big picture

The first step towards stepping out of your recruiter shoes and stepping into your talent acquisition leader shoes is to zoom out. Instead of thinking about how you can level up *your* recruiting game, think about how your work can level up your *company's* talent game. If you make a change in your personal recruiting strategy, think about how you can scale that change in a consistent way across the org. You should also start thinking about higher-level initiatives that can have an org-wide impact, not just an impact on your pipelines. Some places to start are with your company's employer brand and DEI strategy. Unlock your creativity and tackle some of these larger problems!

🧙‍♀️ Influence without authority

Because of the misconceptions and misunderstandings around recruiting and talent acquisition, you're going to have to fight to have your voice as a true business partner heard. The key to doing this is mastering the art of influencing without authority. No one's going to hand you the authority to make high-level strategic decisions, so you need to lead by example and bias towards making an organization-wide impact through your work. Over time, people will start to see you as a partner to the business instead of an in-house service agent. Start by becoming a true business partner to your hiring manager, going above and beyond to understand their underlying pain points and coming up with creative ways, even outside of recruiting itself, to alleviate those pain points.

🤓 Develop your analytical mindset

With great power comes great responsibility. If you're going to assert influence over org-wide strategies, you better have the rigor of thinking to back it up. Trying to develop a business strategy without data is like shooting in the dark. To design high-value, high-impact initiatives, you have to be able to look under the hood at your data and understand what's going on. Honing your analytical mindset can help you do this. Start by poking around in your ATS's reporting features, examining things like conversion rates (a.k.a. pass-through rates) and pipeline velocity. Take a hypothesis-driven approach, using data to answer questions & concerns about your recruiting strategy. Then, use those insights to drive change across the org.

[0] [1]

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